When you walk past the Village Inn sign depicting two upside-down ducks surrounded by a string of vegetables, it feels as though one has stepped back in time ﾗ or maybe just onto a movie set from the 1940s. In fact, the sign could have very well been from a movie set, since it was made by Emmy Award-winner Jim Trittipo.
Trittipo, the son of the original owners of the VI, Jim Hayes and Jenny Hayes, became an art director in Hollywood and won an Emmy in 1964 for his work on the one-hour variety television show “The Hollywood Palace.” Professor of Art Barry Gunderson restored the sign for the reopening of the VI in 2007 when the VI found new ownership under Jerry Kelly ’96; husband and wife Joel Gunderson and Margaret Lewis; and Jason Adelman.
The VI has since earned recent fame for its clientele. “Neil Young, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katey Sagal and Josh Radnor [’96] have all walked in through these doors,” Kelly said. Not to mention that the film Liberal Arts found the VI to be the perfect set for a scene in the movie featuring Allison Janney ’82 and Radnor.
The VI’s history, however, goes far beyond its Hollywood connections. The original owners of the VI, Jim and Jenny Hayes, opened a grocery shop in the space currently occupied by Wiggin Street Coffee. Jim Hayes ran the store while building the VI, and opened the restaurant in 1949. He also helped to set up The Peoples Bank.
“He was the father of business community in Gambier,” Kelly said.
Jim Hayes also owned the house next to the VI, which currently belongs to his daughter, Mary Ellen Schaefer, and her husband, Steve Schaefer. However, the house is often vacant ﾗ evoking an air of mystery amongst students. This vacancy is due to the fact that the Schaefers visit Gambier only two or three times a year and otherwise rent the house out to people who are coming for Family Weekend or Reunion Weekend.
While the Schaefer house is one resolved mystery in the VI’s history, there are other secrets that the restaurant holds.
“We used to have a regular customer who would always come to the VI for dinner and sit in the same chair every day,” Kelly said. “We knew him personally because he was a regular. Some days after his sudden and unfortunate death, on a Sunday morning, one of the workers was behind the bar. A very short man walked in and walked past him. The VI was not open for the day yet so the worker asked the man to stop and go back, but the man kept walking to the dining room. When the worker tried to follow him the man disappeared. No doors were propped open.”
That day was not the last they saw of the ghost; after all, he was a regular.
“On a separate occasion, Brandy, our bartender at that time, was closing up one night. She had placed the bar stools up [on] the bar and was counting her tips when suddenly out of nowhere the stool in which that regular customer used to sit flew off to the floor. Brandy was scared and ran out immediately,” Kelly said.
Amongst these unsolved VI ghost stories, one story involving mysteriously moving saltshakers was eventually solved.
“The waiters, before closing at night, would place the saltshakers at the far end of the table only to see that they had moved to the near end the next morning. This confused and scared the waiters for a long time,” he said. This occured every day until Kelly solved the puzzle himself. He had come in early one morning and saw the cleaning lady, who was always the first person to enter and leave the building at the start of the day. She would lift the shakers, wipe the table and place them back at the near end, solving the mystery of the saltshakers once and for all.
Through Hollywood connections, town entrepreneurship and ghost stories, the VI is sure to continue its rich history. “This place resonates with Kenyon history,” Kelly said.